The Economic and Community Development Institute
(ECDI), a nonprofit micro-lender, and the Cleveland Culinary Launch and Kitchen
(CCLK), a pay-as-you-go commercial kitchen, are making mobile food options more accessible to downtown diners with their new food buggy program. If all goes well, the first two buggies will hit office buildings at the end of February.
ECDI purchased two food buggies – smaller, more affordable and portable versions of their larger food truck counterparts. “They’re very cool looking,” says Eric Diamond, ECDI executive vice president for lending. “They have a full working kitchen with a cooktop and plumbing. The idea is you can get into buildings and it’s a lot cheaper than a food cart.”
The two buggies initially will carry standard lunch items made by CCLK kitchen staff, such as soup, salad and sandwiches. Organizers are identifying buildings and areas that employ about 600 people to locate the buggies. The first two buggies will test the operation – sales, price points and location. Eventually CCLK plans to have 15 to 20 buggies operating throughout the city.
The two buggies will at first only carry food prepared by CCLK users, and the staff there is busy prepping food in the kitchen this week. Diamond says they want operators to eventually add their own creations to the mix and perhaps have cuisine themes for each day of the work week.
The operators, who lease the buggies from CCLK, will pay a percentage of their profits to CCLK, which in turn takes care of licensing and business training. The CCLK will also help find locations and execute contracts with those locations.
The CCLK will sell buggies and help with financing for those entrepreneurs who want to peddle only their own creations. “We would hope they would use CCLK as a prep kitchen and promote what’s going on in the kitchen,” says Diamond, adding that the buggies will feature some of the products turned out by CCLK chefs.
The buggies are not competition for Cleveland’s thriving food truck scene, says Diamond. They will sell lunches on the budget end – about $8 – and stay away from most truck events like Walnut Wednesday.
“There’s a market for both,” Diamond says. He adds that the buggies, in addition to going inside, can easily be hauled to suburban little league games or other more remote events. They attach easily to the back of a car, like a U-Haul trailer. “It’s an affordable option for people who want to get in the business but don’t want to spend the money on a food truck.”
Diamond says the program should create 25 jobs, including the operators and prep staff. “For us, it’s all about creating jobs, creating access to the market,” he says. “It’s a good living for someone.”